AUSTIN, Texas — A Nigerian national was sentenced to 135 months in federal prison for fraud and money laundering scheme involving so-called “romance scams” that netted the man over a million dollars and resulted in one victim taking her own life.
34-year-old Kingsley Otuya pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. According to court records, authorities began investigating Otuya as part of a series of investigations based in Austin into the activities of West African fraud schemes.
The FBI describes a romance scam as follows:
It’s called a romance scam, and this devastating Internet crime is on the rise. Victims—predominantly older widowed or divorced women targeted by criminal groups usually from Nigeria—are, for the most part, computer literate and educated. But they are also emotionally vulnerable. And con artists know exactly how to exploit that vulnerability because potential victims freely post details about their lives and personalities on dating and social media sites.
Federal prosecutors say the conspiracy scammed American citizens out of over $1 million. Otuya acted as a “catcher,” one of the individuals responsible for quickly withdrawing fraudulently obtained funds from bank accounts where the victims deposited their funds.
Otuya used fake passports to open 9 different bank accounts in false names in Austin and structured his withdrawals to amounts under $10,000 so as to avoid bank reporting requirements. Otuya would then send the money to coconspirators before the victim attempted to recover their funds, feds say.
Multiple victims faced serious financial hardship as a result of these scams, and one of the victims who sent money to Otuya took her own life after losing hundreds of thousands of dollars and being emotionally devastated by a romance scam.
“This case brutally illustrates how fraud schemes hurt victims not only financially but also emotionally,” said U.S. Attorney John F. Bash. “We will remain steadfast in our efforts to protect Americans from transnational criminal conspiracies.”
Otuya faces likely deportation back to Nigeria as a result of this conviction.